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Poster: ghostofpig Date: Jul 31, 2007 4:58am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Blue Ron

Question for your comments:

I know that Pig is one of the most debated members of the band. Did he really contribute as a keyboardist? Were his vocals really soulful or just bad? Are his raps long and tedious and repetitive? Is he an ugly cuss?

I think that there are three camps, though I'll probably hear from a fourth camper: Those who saw him perform, those
who did not but wish they did, and those who are glad they never had to endure him.

I think that you know where my opinion lies. If not, let me spell it out for you.

In 1965, a ragtag group of young scruffians got together on a lark and said, "let's play some of this here rock and roll music." Now, prior to this great moment in history, a few of these same guys were in a jug band playing acoustic music. Nice stuff, a couple of tunes that would resurface. Whose idea was it to plug in? Jerry's? No. It was Pig's. Pig was the lover of blues and r&b who suggested that they take what they had developed in Mother McCrees and juice it up.

Without this catalyst: no Grateful Dead. So, at least give him his props. In the early days, according to band members, Pig was the frontman. Certainly Weir didn't sing much, and Jerry was figuring out what songs could translate to this new electric style. Most of Pig's tunes were already plucked from an electric pond. Note that many of Pig's tunes stayed with the band for years, while most of the songs Jerry chose did not (Caution was recorded in 1965 for the Autimn Records demo). When the band began to stretch out on some of the songs, it became evident that Pig was not in the same league as Jerry and Phil. But instrumentation was never Pig's strong point. In late '66-early '68--befor T.C. came on board, Pig's keys nonetheless played an important role in the new psychesllic sound. And he did manage to hold his own--listen to Viola Lee Blues on the first l.p and tell me that ain't Pig pushing Jerry at the end.

Yet, primal band--TOO, DS, the 11, etc., Pig started to fall behind--witness his repetitive riff in the early Dark Stars.
Still, pretty much from the beginning, Pig was the straw that stirred the drink--not Jerry. Listen to tapes from 66-67-68--69 and notice who ends the shows the most often. Best for last? Not the point. After a long foray into psychedelia, it would be up to Pig to bring us all back to earth--even more so, to make us part of the process by getting us to DANCE physically as well as mentally. He made us laugh, cry, hoot and holler. He was by turns a priest, a shaman (even though he had to see the gypsy woman on occasion), a hootchie-cootchie man, a soul man, a clown, a messenger whose message to "git yo hands out of yo pockets."`Nothing like a good coach to pick up women. I certainly learned more fom Pig that I did from Dad.

Sure, you can claim that his role was limited to Lovelight, Caution, Alligator, Schoolgirl and the like. But he brought strong material to the band; Hard to Handle, the short lived It's a Man's, Man's World. They wisely did not overplay it, but the greatest treat for me was to hear him moan about that Smokestack Lightnin', swearing he "didn't bit your baby sister."

His moaning, his rolling, his strut, his rap--it was all real. He had more street cred than anyone else, more contact with the source. He didn't mimic songs; he made them his own. By 1971, his position in the band began to diminish as it became clear that fans were coming more to see the 3 gunslingers. The second coming of the 5 piece dead was a hell of a lot different than the first. Garcia/Hunter had written some 30 or so songs. Bob and Jerry alternated vocals, with Pig getting in every 5th or 5th song. Still, look at the early 1971 set lists, and you will see numerous Lovelights ending shows--and lots of his new vehicle--Good Lovin'--which was just starting to open up for him. And let's not forget "Hard to Handle"-- a song that just kept on getting tighter and meaner until it's final performance at Gaelic Park that summer.

And then Pig got sick. The alcohol that fueled him had taken its toll and it showed. He looked terrible. As Jerry would get fat from his demons, Pig got thin-terribly thin. And he missed the Sept--Nov. 1971 shows during which Keith emerged and supplanted him with his new jazzy style. Still, a few shows into his return, he was back. The December 12-07-71 show. http://www.archive.org/details/gd71-12-07.sbd.miller.3375.sbeok.shnf

saw the first Smokestack Lightning since 2-19-71 (a great version--as were they all!). You can hear him moaning, "I been gone too long," as if he realized how much he missed the band and the show, and how much Keith's presence had pushed him a little further out.

1972 saw his role diminish a little more. Pretty much gone are the long rave up Lovelights--those that exist are short.
But we did get a few originals. We got the (sadly) little played Empty Pages in the summer, and Mr. Charlie and Chinatown Shuffle in the fall (neither of which are classics). But the March run at the Academy of Music saw the premier of his swan song, "The Stranger," a solemn song about a man desperate to find love, a song about himself. He could still reach the core of your heart and tug on it.

The European tour was his literal swan song, but he went out with a bang. While he didn't get as much play as he had in previous years, he had by now whipped Good Lovin' into his new vehicle for rapping and story telling. Sure, he bought the Brooklyn Bridge the year before, but now he was selling it--and sell it he did. There must be a thousand deeds to the Bridge floating around Europe to this day.

To me, his finest moment of the tour--one of his finest moments ever--come in the Good Lovin'--Caution--Who Do You Love--Caution--Good Lovin' sandwich of 4-14-72, documented in glorious 16 track sound on the reissue of Europe '72.
In it, he moves away from the standard fare of pony riding, nitties, and po9cket pool into comepletely new territory. WHile the other versions from this tour maintain the whimsical tongue in cheek stylings of the Pig we all new and loved, this version is different. It's deep. It's more dramatic. It explores the dynamics of the sexual tension between men and women that has always existed and which Pig always flirted with. But here, he is immersed in that tension, and his rap reveals a man entranced, as if the words were coming from a higher plane. Now, I must step back and add that the band was on fucking fire--and I don't mean that stylized stuff from the later 70s. I mean they were off to the space races. They were exploring riffs and dynamics that had never been in at breathtaking speeds, fueling the Reverend Ron's sermon. Usually, Ron led the band; but here they are equals, genuinely 6 musicians telling a story. Everyone dazzles--especially Jerry and Keith, whose interplays and sudden changes blow me away every time hear this piece. But that is what Pig needed that night, that wild, unbridled sound that would release him to sing his best tale. And, just when they have all climaxed at a space where you think they cannot go any further, Jerry leads them into a brief Caution. But Pig doesn't want to sing "All you need"; instead, he rips--I mean RIPS--into Who Do You Love and then lets the band flow back into a brief Caution reprise. By now, the puckish Pig has returned and he finishes his rap by tiptoeing up to his sleeping lover and "beginning to do some midnight creeping." There's our Pig! And the group heads delightfully back to the Good Lovin' reprise and everyone can now pick up their jaws and attempt to find their brains.

The first time I heard this tape--a hissy, slightly fast cassette from the radio broadcast back in 1973, it floored me. The night we got the news that Pig had died, a bunch of us got some cheap wine and played this tape in his honor. Twice.

I could swear that deep down in that song, he was saying goodbye.

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Poster: acetboy Date: Jul 31, 2007 11:44am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Blue Ron

.

This post was modified by acetboy on 2008-05-30 01:05:37

This post was modified by Diana Hamilton on 2007-07-31 18:44:22

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Poster: ghostofpig Date: Jul 31, 2007 11:52am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Blue Ron

Chuck you, Farley. Of course, I was only two when I slipped out the crib and crawled down to the F.East.

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Poster: robthewordsmith Date: Jul 31, 2007 6:19am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Blue Ron

There really isn’t much I can meaningfully add to that excellent essay, ghost. I’ll just say this. My favourite Dead period has always, I guess, been the Keith years. Pigpen was really only there at the very beginning of that but I think his influence on the development of the band stretched way past his death. I’d guess I’m not alone in feeling sometimes that there was a space left in the music for Pigpen. There wasn’t a whole lot left for Pigpen by the time the eighties rolled around. (A reason I don’t like that period so much? I don’t know.)

As to his musical chops – sure he couldn’t match Jerry and Phil in full cry, but within his limits what he did was done with impeccable timing. Listen to the Europe 72 shows (no hardship for you I know!) and hear just how many times a perfectly weighted and positioned organ fill drifts in. Pigpen just felt it and his instincts were spot on.

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Poster: skuzzlebutt Date: Jul 31, 2007 8:15am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Blue Ron

Great post filled with passion- even if I don't fully share your sentiments or enthusiasm. And let me say up front that I belong to the camp that never saw him, wouldn’t have minded seeing him just to see what all the fuss was about, but isn’t exactly torn up with regret over having missed him.

I've said it before and I'll say it again- there's no denying the guy was the The Showstopper in the band's early years, injecting a much needed element of bluesy, gritty humanity into the increasingly spacey proceedings. In many real ways, he was the closest thing the Dead ever had to a frontman. True, he didn't add much as a keyboardist and quickly fell behind the curve instrumentally, but that's not really what he was there for. I’m also not in position to question the assertions made here and elsewhere that he was a mesmerizing live performer.

BUT…

His “raps”- the whole “Reverend Ron” shtick – don’t do a damn thing for me. Boring at best, imbecilic at worst, and almost never worth my time. Even though it’s not my favorite era of Dead music, I really do love listening to the primal stuff because of the incredible balls-to-the-wall jamming- but once Pigpen stops singing lyrics and starts into his stupid “get this guy and girl together and tell them to fuck” routine, I’m reaching for the skip button just about every time. Tedious in the extreme. Again, it may have been the be-all end-all experience for those in attendance, but I find listening to a recording of this nonsense 40 years later nothing but an annoying test of patience, one that I usually fail.

PS- I see you’re dismissive of “Mr. Charlie”, but it’s actually one of my favorite Pig tunes!

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Poster: ghostofpig Date: Jul 31, 2007 9:32am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Blue Ron

Not so much dismissive. Stacked up against Empty Pages and The Stranger--just not as good. But it is a nice bouncy song nonetheless.

And there is some truth to the idea that Pig was a man of his time and the audience was different.

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Poster: high flow Date: Jul 31, 2007 4:49pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Blue Ron

Thank you Ghost. Tremendous essay. Much appreciated.

Pig was your fearless leader. ;)

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Poster: William Tell Date: Jul 31, 2007 6:13pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Blue Ron

In spite of my confession, right on High Flow. Excellent post by GOP.

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Poster: ghostofpig Date: Jul 31, 2007 5:50pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Blue Ron

I think I wrote about meeting him in my earlier incarnation as O.D.--at a Fillmore East softball game. What a hoot! Went drinking with him (I never really liked to drink). It was well worth the heaves and the hangover--mine.

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Poster: kochman Date: Jul 31, 2007 6:20am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Blue Ron

I liked him, but I could do without some of the 30 minute versions of typically short songs (midnight hour comes to mind)

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Poster: ghostofpig Date: Jul 31, 2007 6:26am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Blue Ron

Midnight Hour often depended on the band--but may I suggest 4-29-71? A nice blend of band and Pig, with one of the greatest jerry missed chords available (off key, but perfect).

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Poster: William Tell Date: Jul 31, 2007 4:35pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Blue Ron...don't shoot me.

Ghost--though I am lumped (lovingly) with the old timers, I am not a Ron fan...tragic, sad and almost embarrassing to admit. I listen to the jam songs from the era. And not Lovelight, typically. I hate to say it, and hope you don't hate me for it, or Cush, but when they tried to turn out Ron in the fall of 68, it didn't bother me...I cringe at his raps, frankly, as someone above stated, since they are sooo at odds with an enlightened (new age?) acceptance of the opposite sex.

I hope that we can remain to be friends, but I always thought the DEAD were held back by his role and if they had just replaced him with TC and never looked back they would have been the better for it...

I will probably be prevented from posting here from now on...

Sorry, GOP. I know you posted with great heart and sincerity.

This post was modified by William Tell on 2007-07-31 23:35:50

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Poster: ghostofpig Date: Jul 31, 2007 4:21pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Blue Ron...don't shoot me.

We hates the Bagginses . . . .

To each his own. But, will you concede this:

The jams out of Alligator, Caution, the jam sections in Lovelight, that great primal stomp on the 1967 versions of The Same Thing. In short, those boys sure could play in between Pig's raps. And I think he brought out the best in them.

However, I am researching where you live . . . .

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Poster: William Tell Date: Jul 31, 2007 4:32pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Blue Ron...don't shoot me.

Hey GOP--that is the chemistry of which you speak...my brothers, who saw them many times in 65-67, always talked of them as "his" band...truth be told, they didn't go for them...they hailed Moby Grape as top, JAirpl, and Quicksil as second best...others, sadly above the boys...but that was them.

I latched onto the DEAD and never looked back. And I concede that if Jerry and the others saw him as the mainstay, which my brothers perceived as well when seeing them live in those early days, it counts for something.

They might never have been what they were without him, I grant you that.

Thanks for not doing me in...even if you are looking for my home.

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Poster: William Tell Date: Jul 31, 2007 4:38pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Blue Ron...don't shoot me.

And you know, this feels good...talking, posting and just doing what we do best here abouts.

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Poster: ghostofpig Date: Jul 31, 2007 5:47pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Blue Ron...don't shoot me.

I'm getting closer. Start watching your back, looking for a portly guy with greasy black long hair, a greasy mustache and goatee, a Hell's Angel's jacket with buttons and pins all over it, and a small knife attached to his belt. If he starts talking about pocket pool, it will be me.

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Poster: William Tell Date: Jul 31, 2007 6:14pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Blue Ron...don't shoot me.

My last words will be: "Now, wait a minute...that's it...play your guitar" (instead).

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